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How to Deal With Guilt When You Have a Mental Illness

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Recently, I’ve been considering the massive impact guilt has on my mental health. As far back as I can remember, I’ve experienced feelings of guilt or anxiety. There is no pattern to these feelings and, sometimes, they come hurtling at me out of the blue. Why does this happen?

I’m not a medical expert, but living the life I do, with the illness I have, makes me an expert of sorts — an expert in that I understand, at times of increased stress, I’m going to experience guilt.

My guilt manifests itself in me feeling I’m not good enough for the people I have in my life, that I’m a bad daughter/girlfriend/friend, that I’m selfish and have ruined people’s lives, that I think bad things (even if I don’t wish they would come true) and that I’ve got one shot at life and this is all I can be.

I lie awake at night, thinking up new ways to torture myself and exacerbate my feelings of guilt. Maybe I see it as just punishment for being a burden on others, or maybe I’m a secret sadist, amongst other things.

Guilt is a very strong, very negative emotion. It seeps into our core and tries to destabilize our already-unstable lives. It’s the devil on our shoulder, whispering into our ear and laughing at our terrified expression.

Most of all, though, guilt is an emotion, like any other, which means you can learn to control it with practice.

If guilt is ruling your life right now and you simply can’t shut off, make a list of all the reasons why you think you should feel guilty. Next to those reasons, make a list of all the things that make you worthy of anything good and the love you receive — feelings of worthiness, if you like.

For everything bad in this world and in our heads, there is something good. You just need to keep remembering that. Keep the positive list for when you need a gentle reminder. We are all worthy of living a guilt-free life and believing all of the good things people say or do for us.

I’ll fight my illness and the associated negative feelings forever, but I won’t go down without a fight. Guilt — I’ve got your number. Be gone!

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Photo by Pablo Varela on Unsplash

Originally published: October 11, 2017
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